Thursday, October 8, 2009

Slow shutter speeds and dancers

Can you tell I'm having a slow week?

This image was taken at the Laura Dance Festival which is an aboriginal dance and cultural festival which happens up on Cape York at the tip of Australia every couple of years.

Laura is a great festival but a bugger to photograph. The dancers are all in a small arena so they're nice and close - no need for really long lenses. But when it's sunny it is just so contrasty that your whole picture turns to big, black shadows and blown-out highlights.

So all the regular folk pray for sunny skies and the photographers pray for clouds! Anyway I had an idea for a way to get around the high contrast, and that was to use it. To create a picture that was all about light and shadow and movement -as opposed to simply a record of the faces of the dancers.

So I decided to give myself a really slow shutter speed to blur the movement and create an abstract picture. I looked for a time when the dancers were out in the sun and their bright, colourful costumes were highlighted and took a series of shots.

And then when the sun went back behind the clouds I took a picture of the same Laura festival dancers only this time without the slow shutter speeds and blur.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Slow shutter speeds and fire

Now surely a fire is one of those times that you need a fast shutter speed? After all you have to capture all those sparks firing out of the top.

That's what I thought and had the shutter speed cranked up to 1/1000th second and you know what I got?

A whole bunch of pin pricks of light coming out of the top of the fire and no volume to the flames. Hmmm time to put the thinking cap on.

The shutter speed was so fast that it wasn't recording the fact that the sparks were moving on erratic paths out of the top of the fire, it was only recording them in a brief moment of that passage. In other words it was freezing the motion when in actual fact what I wanted to do was show the motion. And the shutter wasn't open long enough for the big flames to record properly in the picture.

So I put my shutter speed down to 1/15th second or thereabouts and suddenly my flames were creating paths and patterns through the night sky out the top of my sugar cane fire and my flames were full.

There was only one problem - or in my case lucky observation. This picture was shot on film. I had no idea what was happening at the time. It was all a lucky guess basically, although I like to think there was a bit of skill involved!

After taking 10 or so shots at the faster shutter speed I suddenly realised I was doing things the wrong way. So I backed off on the shutter speed. How did I know to try for 1/15th second? I didn't. And that's the beauty of those slow shutter speeds. It's all a guess. At least with digital you can adjust things on the spot if you're too slow or fast.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mixing moving and static subjects

Here's another example of photography at a fair to complement yesterday's post. As you can see we've got two different groups of people. In the foreground is the little girl and her father waiting for the dodgem cars.

In the background is the two girls in dodgem car #5. One group is moving, one isn't and slow shutter speeds are a great way of contrasting these two elements within the one frame.

The trick is to have just the right shutter speed - too fast and the dodgem car will be frozen still and you won't be able to tell if it's moving. Too slow and the static people in the foreground might move, or your hand might shake if you're hand-holding the camera (which I am here). Or the dodgem will be too blurred to know what it is. It really is a fine photographic balancing act.

For this image I used a shutter speed of about 1/8th second. Because I'm shooting with a shorter focal length wide angle lens I'm more easily able to hold the camera at slower shutter speeds so if you haven't got a tripod with you reach for your shortest lens. Telephoto lenses are a bugger to hold at longer shutter speeds even with image stabilisation.

Using the wide angle lens means you have to get up nice and close to the people in the foreground. I don't think they knew I was there which is a bit out of the norm for my style of people photography but when I saw this shot I couldn't resist the great interaction between the father and daughter.

So my aim for this shot was to make the dodgem cars looks quite fast so I wanted to blur them just that little bit. Then I imagined the little girl being a little pensive about such a fast ride and that's why she was holding on tightly to her father's hand. Whether this was the case or not I have no idea, this is what was going through my head as I was constructing the picture.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Slow shutter speeds subjects at night

One of the things I really enjoy about photography is its unpredictability. With film it was even more the case, but even with digital there are times when you just aren't sure what you're going to get.

Any time there's a bit of uncertainly in a photographic result the heart beats a little bit faster as you change this and that to experiment, not really knowing what it will effect.

Nowhere is this more the case than when using slow shutter speeds. The slower the shutter speed the more moving objects will blur - but just how much and what the result will be is purely hit-and-miss. Gotta love that!

This image was shot at the annual Cairns Show. Night fairs are a great place to try out this technique, just remember the tripod! As soon as the sun goes down people tend to bump up their ISO so they can get faster shutter speeds. For this kind of image that's exactly the opposite of what we want to do so you can safely leave your camera on its base ISO of 100 (or whatever your camera's base ISO is).

We want a slower shutter speed so that the rides will be blurry while (hopefully) the people won't be too blurry. I set my tripod up in a relatively out of the way place and pointed it up at these two rides. I wanted lots of blur in the right hand side ride and not too much in the left hand one. But more importantly I didn't want the guy in the ticket booth to be blurred.

The who you say? The guy in the ticket booth, who is actually the subject of my picture. I saw him and he looked like the most bored person on the entire planet and wanted to show a picture of him with all this moving excitement around him but him just staying there in the one spot, rooted to his boredom if you will.

So I went with a shutter speed of about 2 seconds. I put the camera into Shutter Priority and took a shot with the self-timer cable. I took a few shots just to be sure and was amazed to find that nobody in the picture seemed to have moved over those two seconds! Sure there was a little blur in some of the figures but pretty much everybody was totally still while the shutter was open, looking up the the whirling rides.

Now that's a bonus that was totally unplanned for. And that's why I love using slow shutter speeds at night.